Seeing the future through music

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Seeing the future through music


I’m a fan of harmonica player Lee Oskar and often listen to his performances of “Before the Rain” and “San Francisco Bay.” But I’d never heard “Rhapsody in Blue” on the harmonica until a New Year’s concert at the Seoul Arts Center on Jan. 4. From the beginning to finale, the instrument sounded as impressive and powerful as a clarinet. It was played by 38-year-old Jun Je-duk, who is considered the best harmonica player in Korea. The conductor brought him back on stage twice to thunderous applause.

The theme of the concert was “Hopeful People, Greater Korea” and it was attended by the president, foreign diplomats and dignitaries and leaders of various fields. It was a government-sponsored event, and it felt noteworthy to begin the New Year with a concert that included traditional music, songs, classical music and ballet. Jun Je-duk’s appearance was especially meaningful as he’s not only an outstanding musician but is also visually impaired.

Jun lost his vision 15 days after he was born and as he grew up he became filled with anger and frustration. In 1996, he heard a harmonica performance by legendary musician Toots Thielemans on the radio. He was so moved that he cried. Without any formal lessons, he taught himself to play the instrument just by listening to it. He played a harmonica CD over and over until it broke. He practiced so hard that he wore out a harmonica a month.

I would like to see more people like Jun Je-duk turning their frustrations into artistic spirit and transforming despair into hope. Their stories would warm the hearts of many.

A 2012 survey on cultural enjoyment published by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute shows signs of hope in this department. While the overall percentage of visits to cultural and art events dropped from 2010, it went up by 2.3 percent to 26.9 percent for households in the lowest income group; people who earn less than 1 million won ($940.73) per month. This is an encouraging sign. Cultural welfare projects for the poor and minority groups, including the cultural voucher system, are beginning to bear fruit. The survey confirmed that those who experienced art and culture during childhood and adolescence are more likely to attend cultural events than those who grew up without such opportunities. That’s another reason why the government should pay more attention to children in the low-income bracket and socially neglected classes.

The following is a quote from a sixth grader in Jeonju who received a cultural voucher for 50,000 won to spend on cultural events.

“I went to see the play, ‘Liar 2.’ I thought it was going to be boring, but I really enjoyed the show. Now that I’ve seen it, I think lots of people would love it. It was completely different from my assumption that plays are boring. Someday, will I be able to entertain and bring such joy to others?”

* The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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